I will always remember the public library in Mayfair with fondness. This was my refuge in the final couple of years of my lawyer days. When I couldn’t face staying at my desk to eat my lunch, I would go outside of the office to some nearby town gardens to sit with my sandwich before walking another fifty metres to the library.
In part, I used to go to the library because it was warm and, in the depths of winter, there is only so long you can sit in the park! But also it felt safe. There were no phones, no clients, no work e-mails, no colleagues – just books. And those books made me feel safe at a time in my life when I just didn’t feel safe.
You see, I had moved to this second law firm in the hope that things would change for me. That the daily sense of desperation so characteristic of my City days would ease, even a little. That I would have more time to build what mattered to me, which was my marriage and the church.
But although the externals had changed, nothing had changed on the inside. I was still spending days feeling trapped and hopeless. I was still getting on the tube and fighting off panic attacks which made me want to battle my way back off the tube on to the platform again.
And so it was that sitting on the park bench with my sandwich and my New Testament Greek textbook, and sitting in that library perusing whatever books came to hand, became my lifeline. A strange one, I admit. After all, who sees New Testament Greek and libraries as a lifeline?!
But they were mine. And I read some great books in that library. A lot of coaching titles which caused me to ask some significant questions about what I was doing with my life. And then some religious titles too. The kind of titles that purport to be Christian and yet are usually not very Christian at all!
In fact, my experience has always been that the Christianity section in public libraries tends to be a mixed bag but just occasionally you can get really lucky! At the beginning of what was to be my final year as a lawyer, I got lucky in exactly that way when I came across Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.
Just sometimes, I think you find a book which speaks almost prophetically into your situation. Every word reads as if it was written for you. That was how this book was for me. On page after page, it spoke to me of:
a way that leads to stagnation – unrealised potential, unfulfilled longings…abilities and gifts that never get cultivated and deployed – until weeks become months, and months turn into years, and one day you’re looking back on a life of…exhilarating risks you never took…You see the person you could have become but did not; you never followed your calling; you never got out of the boat.
And that was me. Faithfully continuing in a risk-free existence because I couldn’t dare to believe that now might be the time for stepping out of the boat. And, at the same time, also utterly afraid of unrealised potential, unfulfilled longings.
Yet, just as Jesus called Peter to step out of the boat, he called me that year to step out of my risk-free career. He spoke a call into my heart that I could not shake off. It was time to move and not to do so would have been disobedience.
I’ll be honest here: had God not called me out of law, I suspect I might still be there (if I hadn’t had a nervous breakdown first ). Seven years qualified this summer, it would have been. I’d have been beginning to wonder about positioning myself for the partnership track within the next couple of years. It makes me shudder to think about it. What might it have been like if I had not stepped out of the boat four years ago?
And yet, grace called me out through a series of coaching sessions and a handful of books, this one of John Ortberg’s in particular. I am forever grateful.
I am forever grateful, but I am not complacent. I got out of that boat then. But what boat am I in now and what water-walking is Jesus calling me to do today?
I think this question is worth asking regularly. I’ve blogged this entry because I bought my own copy of Ortberg’s book this year. I bought it because my boat is being rocked again. I’m being called to step out in areas I never considered stepping out in before. I’m being invited to think bigger than I used to about what God might want me to be open to doing.
And some of you know what is the one thing in particular which I believe God has been calling me to but with which I’ve been wrestling with over the last nine months. Those who don’t: please consider yourselves blessed not to have had to listen to my endlessly pathetic vacillations on the subject… I am unbelievably wet about taking even the smallest risks!
Anyway, it’s enough to say that this one thing (to which I am now in the process of committing myself) is a water-walking experience again for me. I am going to be WELL outside of my little boat. The waves will seem to overwhelm me. I will whinge. I will cry. I will freak out. And I will second-guess my decision endlessly. Of that, I am sure. But I am also excited that I am going to be water-walking again.
So, if you don’t object, I’d like you to let me throw a question or two out to you now.
Where are you walking on water at the moment?
And where in your life is Jesus calling you to get out of the boat?
Please, take some time this week to ask yourself that question seriously. Of course, I can’t vouch for where we’ll end up but I can promise we’ll see great adventure with the water-walking God if only we will hear his call to get out of the boat!